Only a few countries recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Is it going to change?

Read few comments.

James Ker-Lindsay, Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe, The London School of Economics and Political Science

Although there is always the possibility that more countries will recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it would seem very unlikely that many more will do so. Traditionally, states take a very conservative position on matters of international law. They are extremely reluctant to recognise unilateral acts of secession. Since 1945, there has been only one clear cut case of unilateral secession that has led to universal recognition: Bangladesh. But even in that case, Bangladesh did not join the UN until Pakistan, the ‘parent’ state, had accepted its independence.

(By the way, cases such as Yugoslavia, the USSR, as well as East Timor and Eritrea, are usually seen as products of rather different process relating to the break up of states or decolonisation. They are not usually classed as unilateral acts of secession.)

Of course, Kosovo would appear to be a very obvious exception to this. However, in that case the decision by various states, such as the United States and key EU members, to recognise Kosovo was driven by their concerns about Balkan stability. They believed that there was no viable alternative but to let Kosovo go its own way. Nevertheless, for many EU members the decision to recognise Kosovo was made reluctantly as they knew the important implications that their decision would have for international law. This explains why these states are so keen to stress the unique nature of the situation in Kosovo. They do not want Kosovo to be seen as precedent for separatist conflicts elsewhere, not least of all in the Caucasus.

In the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, there is a strong lobbying campaign by Washington and EU members against recognition. Any suggestion that a country is even contemplating recognition results in intense diplomat activity to try to prevent it from doing so. So far, this has been extremely successful.

If we do see any more recognitions, they are most likely to come from one of two sources. The first are small Pacific island states, which have a history of profiting off their sovereignty. Secondly, we could see recognitions from certain states – for example, in Latin America – that are trying to build closer relations with Russia at the deliberate cost of their ties to the West.

Licínia SimãoAssistant Professor, University of Beira Interior

There are a few reasons why I believe that there will not be many other countries recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s declaration of independence.

The first reason is that most of the states and international organisations in the international system prefer to avoid further fragmentation, by creating new sovereign entities, which will have a great deal of difficulty in surviving and fulfilling the obligations bestowed on them by this very recognition, without depending on other wealthier and powerful states. In this case, both entities now depend to a large extent on Russia, compromising their autonomy in world affairs. Moreover, in the context of the South Caucasus, this fragmentation would most likely not solve the secessionist conflicts inherited from the Soviet Union, because Georgia is unlikely to accept what they perceive as the annexation of their territories by Russia. A view they have been rather successful in promoting internationally.

A second reason is that there is still ongoing a certain level of competition but also cooperation between the West and Russia in Eurasia. In some issues like conflict mediation there has been cooperation but in geopolitical terms, including through the support to friendly regimes and economic opportunities, both the EU and the US have challenged Russia’s regional prominence. This means that Russia’s efforts to increase the legitimacy of these entities and of their calls for independence have been framed in the broader dynamics of regional and internacional politics. For the time being there will be little chances that the West will recognise these entities.

Finally, the pace of future recognitions will depend on the ability of Russia to pressure smaller international partners into doing so (much like China does with Taiwan, but in the opposite sense) and on the perceived losses Moscow can derive by pursuing such path.

Gerard Toal (Gearóid Ó Tuathail), Professor & Director, Government and International Affairs, Virginia Tech

I do not foresee this changing much in the next few years. While there are questions about the quality of democratization in Georgia among Euro-Atlantic states, all are united in not recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. This position has great weight in international affairs. There is a powerful norm against perceived secessionism in the international system of states. The more policy-relevant questions today is (1) the degree to which states pursue an “engagement without recognition” policy and (2) whether they endorse the favored Georgian government rhetoric which views these regions as “occupied territories.” This latter position hold that Georgia’s territorial difficulties are the result of Russian imperial policies and are not failures of Georgian state building policies.

Svante Cornell, Director, Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm

This is indeed the case, in spite of Russian expectations that more countries would recognize these entities than Kosovo. No, I don’t expect it to change, inpart because of the sad range oc regimes that have recognized them. Who wants to join Nicaragua and Nauru, when they have so obviously been bribed into it? Not even Russia’s closest allies so far budged to the serious Russian pressure. And following Putin’s own admission recently that the war was planned long before, the chances are still lower.

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One Response

  1. If Kosovo is an exception so is Abkhazia and South Ossetia, who decides what is an exception, the US and EU, I think not.

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